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NYguy Nov 8, 2019 7:33 PM

First Skyscraper?
This has been debated for years, but it's being looked at again. I'm sure people will feel strongly one way or the other, but before anyone starts, this isn't a city vs. city battle.

Column: The same people who demoted Willis Tower could strip Chicago of another skyscraper title

NOV 07, 2019


At a recent symposium organized by the group, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, the skeptics reiterated arguments they’ve been making for years: New York and Chicago already had office buildings of 10 or more stories before the Home Insurance went up, and those buildings were popularly known as skyscrapers. Moreover, the skeptics said, the Home Insurance Building didn’t really mark a decisive shift in tall building design.

New York’s proponents have long stressed that great height is the defining feature of skyscrapers. They point to the fact that lower Manhattan had tall office buildings on its Newspaper Row, like the clock tower-topped New York Tribune Building (a 260 footer), as early as 1875 — 10 years before the Home Insurance Building was completed.

But although the New York towers used commercial passenger elevators, which had been around since the 1850s, they were constructed of load-bearing masonry.

...To clarify the council’s search for the first skyscraper, Wood wrote in the email, the group will recognize a number of firsts, like the “first skyscraper with an all-steel frame.”

Steely Dan Nov 8, 2019 7:45 PM

thinking that there is even a "first" skyscraper is wrong to begin with.

the skyscraper as we know it was born out of an evolutionary process.

picking one lone (and somewhat arbitrary) structure, like the home insurance building, out of dozens of important buildings, each with their own little leaps of innovation, and bestowing the label of "world's first skyscraper" upon it, doesn't really make much sense to me. sure, it makes for a good point of civic pride and something for the local tourism bureau to tout, but it doesn't really mean a whole lot in the real world.

if we want to be honest, there was no "world's first skyscraper", and thus there is no true "birthplace of the skyscraper". though if you are going to make a list of buildings that figured prominently in the evolutionary development of the skyscraper building form, considering both technical and aesthetic innovations, it would be dominated by buildings from NYC and chicago. so if we absolutely must name names, then those two cities really do stand out from the crowd as the two great museum cities of the skyscraper.

Zapatan Nov 8, 2019 8:08 PM

I'd note what was a skyscraper back then is not today. Plus there are a lot of structures that are partially habitable like the Eiffel tower or Great pyramids, some cathedrals in Europe etc. As far as fully habitable buildings go, even if Chicago got the title back then, it's not considered a skyscraper anymore at all.

The CTBUH is a joke anyways. To them the Bank of America Tower in NYC is taller than the John Hancock Center in Chicago.

Steely Dan Nov 8, 2019 8:14 PM


Originally Posted by Zapatan (Post 8743430)
To them the Bank of America Tower in NYC is taller than the John Hancock Center in Chicago.

yeah, that's one of those rather extreme examples that really raises the eyebrows.

DetroitSky Nov 8, 2019 9:06 PM

It ultimately depends on the definition of "skyscraper", which varies from country to country or even town to town. I was recently in Hoopeston, Illinois, about 2.5 hours from Chicago, and discovered a 5 story terra cotta clad office building in a downtown that was otherwise stereotypical small town America. Upon googling the history of the building, I found a comment on its Facebook page from a local calling it "Hoopeston's only skyscraper".

Point being a 5 story building in a town dominated by 1-3 story buildings could be called a "skyscraper", but that building would barely stand out in Chicago. Other, less developed countries, like Haiti, consider a 10 story building a skyscraper, but again in Chicago or NYC that's nothing.

And then it depends on the structure of the building, steel or otherwise. But if a steel framed tall building is a skyscraper, does that mean tall wood framed buildings aren't skyscrapers?

Like Steely Dan said, there isn't a first skyscraper, but many buildings' combined firsts created what we now consider skyscrapers.

NYguy Nov 9, 2019 12:42 AM


Originally Posted by Steely Dan (Post 8743404)
thinking that there is even a "first" skyscraper is wrong to begin with.

the skyscraper as we know it was born out of an evolutionary process.

I can't even say at this point what I would consider the "first" skyscraper. They may consider things on a technical basis, but for me I wouldn't call any of the buildings in contention "skyscrapers". It gets a little muddy though trying to weed out what was the first. I tend to lean more towards "height", because that's what we generally think of these days as skyscrapers. What was the first real jump in height from what we today would consider just ordinary buildings.

buildoutbuildup Nov 23, 2019 5:35 PM

This is a really interesting topic. The problem is, skyscraper is such a “generic” term. Like, back in the 1800’s, a skyscraper was very different than the engineering feats that we see in today’s world. I think I agree with DetroitSky – nothing is “first,” but there are all sorts of higher buildings that have helped to create what we know as skyscrapers now.

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